PAL, the US is NTSC). There were very few places in my town which even stocked anime, however the largest local independent record/video/comic store was a real haven for anime. They stocked a few rather expensive US releases (mostly tapes that were put on the shelves because they weren’t picked up by customers who ordered them), but the far more common imports were UK tapes, mostly due to the lack of compatibility issues (UK and Europe were PAL video format like Australia). This is where I found and purchased my first Western Connection tape; “Hummingbirds”. I would later go on to collect just about every anime tape they released.
But before I review some of the true oddities in their catalogue, this first part in the series will look at the company itself. In 1992, this one man video company, run by Yugoslavian immigrant Sasha Cipkalo, was releasing a quite eclectic range of mostly foreign language films on VHS. Really odd titles like Russian films from the 1950’s (“Idiot”), films about astrologers collaborating with the Nazis (“Hanussen”), Hong Kong action films (“Finalgate” aka Fatal Mission), cult French cinema (“Je t’aime moi non plus”) and adding to this bizarre mix, a series of theatrical shorts aimed at the gay market (“North of Vortex” and the “Caught Looking”/”The Attendant” double feature tape).
Western Connection then belatedly began advertising the tape and in mid 1994 the company released its second anime title; Go Nagai’s “Kamasutra”. Several other titles followed that year such as an obscure dub of “The Enemy Is the Pirate” (released as “Galactic Pirates”) the movie “Grey: Digital Target” and the even more obscure “Samurai Gold” OVA. However by January 1995 the company was releasing far more commercial fare such as “Devil Hunter Yokho”, “Ushio And Tora” as well as a couple of “Lupin III” films. Oddly most of the company’s titles all came from the same studio, Toho. I can only assume that Cipkalo did a massive deal with them and got a lot of their more obscure titles dirt cheap. The other curiosity is that many of the tapes sleeves for Western Connection’s releases bore the logo of French company Ucore. One can only assume he made some deal with the company. Perhaps they were acquiring titles for him. I do know that Ucore were the company that created the English dub for “Galactic Pirates” (which was originally commissioned by the Japanese licensor, Kitty Films).
Years ago I read comments on a website from British anime fans that Sasha Cipkalo was only in it for a quick buck, and hence the company’s products were pretty spotty in terms of quality. It’s really hard to dispute that view. Cost cutting seemed to be a high priority for Cipkalo. Apart from the lax quality control on the subtitles, the tapes used for duplication seemed to be the cheapest low grade stock that was available. Brand new unplayed copies of their tapes would look like ex-rentals. Most of the synopses on the back of their latter releases were actually taken from reviews from Anime UK magazine. Yep, Cipkalo couldn’t even be bothered to write his own synopses (or even get Clements to do it). The sleeves where also printed on quite thin low grade paper. Another thing Cipkalo liked to do is edit out openings and endings if there was more than one episode on the tape. Why you ask? Well apparently the British Board of Film Classification would charge more to classify a title if there were two or more episodes on the tape, so to cut costs Cipkalo would edit those parts out so it appeared there was one episode on the tape.
Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade”). Clements recounts a story about him working as a translator for a fictionalised video distributor, but it’s obviously a thinly veiled account of his dealings with Cipkalo and his company. He paints Cipkalo as a slightly sleazy European entrepreneur who thinks of himself as a producer of films when in reality he just distributes cheaply bought anime. In the column Clements recalls the time he accompanied him to a courier company at the airport to pick up master tapes flown in from Japan. After hitting on the receptionist he instructs Clements to go back to the office and type up his translated script without using the using the letter “Y”. This was because the “Y” key no longer worked on the keyboard.
During 1995 the company continued to release some extremely obscure titles, including the only Adachi Mitsuru anime ever to be released in the English language home video market, “Slow Step”. Two rather obscure OVAs, “Ladius” and “Salamander”, along with the “God Bless Dancougar” OVA (the preceding TV series and OVA had never been released in English anywhere before this release) were released in mid 1995 along with the final volume of “Ushio And Tora” and the film “Love City”. After that, the releases stopped completely. In late 1995 in the news section of Anime UK magazine stated that the company had acquired “Darkside Blues” and also the remaining unreleased OVAs for “Hummingbirds” and “Devil Hunter Yohko” and were planning to release them in 1996. However the months went by and not a peep was heard from Western Connection. Despite reassurances in later issues that company were still planning to release these titles, the tapes never did come. The UK anime market cooled down substantially with many of the smaller outfits disappearing from the market. A company releasing obscure OVAs and movies only in a subtitled format was doomed to die. It seemed Cipkalo decided he’d had enough and left the industry for good (it looks like he now runs an IT consultancy in London). I read that (now defunct) UK anime video label Anime Projects apparently bought the company out sometime in 1996 and kept some of their titles in print. I’m not sure if that is correct, but I do recall UK distributor/online shop MVM as the only company still having Western Connection tapes in stock, still unsold on their website as late as 2004. I can only assume they bought up all the unsold stock.
Even though they were pretty crappy, Western Connection brought some weird and great stuff to the English speaking world, including one of my guilty pleasures, “Hummingbirds”. It’s quite easy to dismiss such a company, but in my mind they brought out some really interesting stuff, a lot of which never made it into any other video market in English. I think it’s real shame that this company and its catalogue have pretty much been forgotten by anime fans. To remedy that situation, over the coming months I will be reviewing the more obscure titles in their catalogue.
Western Connection Anime Releases
|Dancougar (“God Bless Dancougar” OVA)||PAL VHS, Japanese Dialogue with English Subtitles||Not released by any other company in English.|
|Devil Hunter Yoko Volumes 1 – 2||PAL VHS, Japanese Dialogue with English Subtitles||Released by ADV Films in the US on NTSC DVD, Japanese Dialogue with optional English Dub and English Subtitles. Currently out of print.|
|Galactic Pirates Volumes 1 – 3||PAL VHS, Dubbed in English||Not released by any other company in English|
|Grey: Digital Target||PAL VHS, Japanese Dialogue with English Subtitles||Released by Viz Video in the US on NTSC VHS, Japanese Dialogue with English Subtitles and English Dubbed versions. Currently out of print.|
|Hummingbirds||PAL VHS, Japanese Dialogue with English Subtitles||Not released by any other company in English.|
|Kamasutra||PAL VHS, Japanese Dialogue with English Subtitles||Released by Kitty Films in the US on NTSC DVD, Japanese Dialogue with optional English Dub and English Subtitles. Currently out of print.|
|Ladius||PAL VHS, Japanese Dialogue with English Subtitles||Not released by any other company in English.|
|Love City||PAL VHS, Japanese Dialogue with English Subtitles||Released by the Right Stuf (as “Ai City”) in the US on NTSC VHS, Japanese Dialogue with English Subtitles. Currently out of print.|
|Lupin III – The Fuma Conspiracy||PAL VHS, Japanese Dialogue with English Subtitles||Released by Discotek in the US on NTSC DVD, Japanese Dialogue with optional English Dub and English Subtitles. Currently out of print.|
|Lupin III – The Gold Of Babylon||PAL VHS, Japanese Dialogue with English Subtitles||Released by AnimEigo in the US on NTSC VHS and Laserdisc, Japanese Dialogue with English Subtitles. Currently out of print.|
|Salamander Volumes 1 – 3||PAL VHS, Japanese Dialogue with English Subtitles||Not released by any other company in English.|
|Samurai Gold||PAL VHS, Japanese Dialogue with English Subtitles||Not released by any other company in English.|
|The Sensualist||PAL VHS, Japanese Dialogue with English Subtitles||Not released by any other company in English.|
|Slow Step Volumes 1 – 3||PAL VHS, Japanese Dialogue with English Subtitles||Not released by any other company in English.|
|Space Firebird||PAL VHS, Dubbed in English||Released by Madman Entertainment in Australia and New Zealand as “Space Firebird 2772” on PAL DVD, Japanese Dialogue with optional English Dub and English Subtitles. Currently out of print.|
|Ushio And Tora Volumes 1 – 6||PAL VHS, Japanese Dialogue with English Subtitles||Released by ADV Films in the US on NTSC DVD, Japanese Dialogue with optional English Dub and English Subtitles.|
Western Connection Print Advertisements (click for larger versions)
|“Kamasutra” advertisement, 1994|
|Autumn 1994 Releases|
|March 1995 releases|
|April 1995 releases|